All classrooms, even empty ones, tell stories about the teaching and learning that happens within them.
With desks in rows facing a teacher station and a whiteboard filled with lesson objectives and lecture notes, a classroom communicates the importance of the teacher voice. Conversely, a classroom with a varied furniture arrangement and a mixture of student and teacher work on all four walls sends an egalitarian message that all voices, including the voices of students, matter. As a student, which type of room would you like to learn in?
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So what can you do to set up a classroom that honors student voice?
Consider your furniture. Do desks, tables, and choices of seating reflect the variety of ways kids work best, whether sitting down, standing up, or lounging in a comfy chair? Does the space give students the opportunity both to work quietly, focused on an independent task, as well as collaboratively in a group setting? Of course, you most likely only have the furniture that originally came with your classroom, but a little creativity can go along way. One third grade classroom I visited recently used large square cubbies in a doorless closet for a reading corner and an old podium as an independent workstation.
Consider your classroom walls. Do they display artifacts of student learning and successes? Can you find evidence of student interests and opinions? One of my teacher friends cheaply added whiteboard space to his middle school math classroom with 4’ x 8’ white panelboard sheets from Home Depot. He lets students use these boards to solve math questions as well as to express their identity with doodles.
The next time you walk around your empty building, peer inside a few classrooms. How are your teaching colleagues setting up their classrooms to honor student voice? Share your thoughts (and any photos) in the discussion below.